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Karácsony’s Plan for Drastic Budapest Speed Limit Generates Uproar and Debate

Ábrahám Vass 2020.04.30.

Drastic regulations for drivers, safer cycling and pedestrian circumstances- a recent proposal from the Budapest mayor would introduce much stricter traffic control in Budapest as Karácsony aims to “reduce the number of fatal accidents to nil in the long run.” However, he has come under criticism mainly for the lack of consultation and seemingly indisciminate reduction. In the end, it turns out that the final decision will only be made next year.

According to the proposal, the current 70km/h speed limits would be completely abolished on the motorways within the capital’s boundaries. The new limit would be 50 km/h. On smaller roads, a speed limit of 30 km/h would be almost uniformly implemented. The plan would additionally revise pedestrian crossings, the implementation of more bicycle lanes, and other aspects of transport.

The General Assembly of Budapest was originally going to discuss the proposal about the elaboration of measures seeking to ease traffic safety on April 29th. However, amid the state-of-emergency situation, the mayor wouldn’t and couldn’t convene the April meeting of the General Assembly, and will decide on the proposals by himself, following consultations with the political group leaders.

According to the calculations, necessary consultations will take approximately 4-6 months, so the plan can be completed by the autumn of 2020. Based on this, the implementation of the measures would be possible from 2021.

Karácsony told commercial channel ATV that the goal is for cleaner air and to bring the number of roadside deaths to zero. In his view, the debate is about how to achieve this goal. Traffic should be reduced in densely populated areas, he insisted, and argued that this had already been included in [former Fidesz-backed mayor] István Tarlós’ mobility plan, which he had voted for as well. At one point, he also mentioned a personal motivation, recalling that his father had lost his life in a traffic accident.

Fact

Budapest roads in 2018 saw 49 deaths and 816 serious injuries, three times the data of Vienna, for example. While death toll data has remained unchanged one year later, the number of serious injuries went up to 919.

Fidesz criticism

Fidesz, however, is criticizing Karácsony, who in their view, instead of dealing with the epidemiological emergency and its economic effects, plans to adopt a proposal for a general speed limit without convening the Assembly. Fidesz’s group leader in the Budapest assembly, Zsolt Láng, demanded the mayor to explain the rationality behind the move, impact studies, expert opinions, and the anticipated outcome of the measures.

In his campaign, Gergely Karácsony promised to have a dialogue with the residents and ask for their opinions on specific projects, he noted. “Yet, now, he alone plans and implements a concept of such a great volume over the heads of the Budapest people and without any social consultation or impact assessment,” Láng claimed.

PMO head Gergely Gulyás also joined this way of thinking, urging consultations and arguing that while the proposal is prepared in haste, it is harmful. He personally “doubts” that such reductions would be a good way to go in a metropolis.

Professional boards divided

Some of the professional boards are rather divided on the plan. According to the president of the Urban and Suburban Transit Association (VEKE), Lajos Dorner, speed limits shouldn’t be introduced uniformly, rather case-by-case. At some places “going faster can lead to traffic and even air pollution diminution, as that is how traffic congestion can be avoided.”

The Hungarian Cyclists’ Club welcomed the plans and argued that it would be in everyone’s interest, including drivers. They doubted that stricter speed limits would result in significant increases in travel time. In a Facebook post, they also demonstrated that while vehicular accidents at 30 km/h take one life per 10 cases, at 50 km/h they take 5, and at 60km/h 9 lives.

The leader of the Budapest Development Center (BFK), established by the Orbán administration, and former Budapest Transport Center (BKK) president, Dávid Vitézy, said he is a fan of public transport and cycling reforms, adding that the “goal should be to have fewer people die on the roads of Budapest, as in this respect, our data is really bad in comparison to other European capitals.”

He, however, criticized the method that Karácsony failed to consult with residents and districts, and also argued that regulations should be decided street by street and not uniformly, when introducing an across-the-board cut. 70 km/h limit to be pushed down to 50 km/h on certain roads is too much, he added.

Fact

Partly due to the changed conditions caused by the pandemic situation, Budapest leadership, at the cost of driving lanes, established new bicycle lanes, for example, on the Grand Boulevard. This led to minor congestion, which has caused some uproar, while the increased number of cyclists are happy with the move.

Karácsony: Traffic proposal to eliminate fatal accidents in Budapest

Reacting to critical remarks concerning the proposal, Karácsony said that speed limits would not be lowered everywhere in the city, noting that a large part of Budapest is already in “zones of reduced traffic.” He added that the aim was to further increase those zones.

The city needs liveable spaces rather than narrow streets in which “pedestrians are trying to bypass cars with drivers irritated by slow traffic,” Karácsony said, noting his campaign pledge to make the city greener and cleaner, and said it was necessary to develop public transport, as well as facilities both for cyclists and pedestrians.

Coronavirus Pandemic Can Change Budapest Traffic and Public Transport for Future

On his Thursday press conference, the Budapest Mayor said they wouldn‘t implement any across-the-board cuts regarding the new speed limits. He promised that they will analyze “street by street” what the optimal solution would be. Karácsony also said he implemented the recommendations of Fidesz into the proposal. He finds it reassuring that the planned speed limit change generated such a debate, as, according to him, it shows that it is an important matter. Gergely Karácsony said that the final decision, based on the detailed plans, cannot be expected before early 2021.

featured image via Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI